You are 11 years old. Your father is dead and your mother left you. You live with your uncle and 7 cousins in a cramped two-room home. You are alone. Lost in a world that is not your own. You have a tumor taking over the left side of your face. Each day you feel it growing. It is so large that your eye has been shut for four years and your ear is distorted. Again, you are alone. Thinking—how will I make it through this life?
This is what life is like for Gafar Alassani. Because of his home life and medical problem, he is timid, aloof, and self-conscious. When spoken to, he bows his head and does not answer. When Mercy Ships nurse Ali Chandra jokes with him he doesn’t even break a smile. You can tell he is in desperate need of some TLC: tender loving care.
Gafar has seen several doctors. They sent him home with medicine, but there have been no positive results. After Gafar’s father passed away, he moved in with his uncle. When word of the Mercy Ship’s arrival came to Gafar’s uncle, he realized this was a golden opportunity for Gafar to get the medical help he desperately needed.
Gafar was transported from his village, Sokode, to Lomé, where he stayed with another uncle. They attended Mercy Ships screening together and Gafar was given a surgery date. When that day arrived, Gafar and his uncle, Ouro-Koura, came to the ship and Gafar was prepped for surgery—his uncle by his side.
“Even though Gafar is not my son, I treat him like he is. I realize that sacrifices need to be made in order for Gafar to have a better life. He does not have a good life now—he is sad and his friends laugh at him. I knew it was something that needed to be fixed. So I am here, and I will stay here with him till he is better.” Ouro-Koura says of his time at Mercy Ships.
Assistant Ward Supervisor, Ali Chandra, worked attentively giving Gafar an IV. Nervous, Gafar clung to his uncle and buried his face in his chest. After several attempts the IV was finally in, and Gafar could breath easier. Surgery was the next day. His hopes were high, but the expression on his face was one of worry and concern. His surroundings were unfamiliar and he was hesitant to warm up to the jovial nurses who persistently tried to cheer him up.
During surgery Dr. Mark removed the tumor that was covering Gafar’s eye and distorting his ear. The mass inside his head had caused Gafar’s face to droop down, shifting his eye and ear down several centimeters. While in surgery, Dr. Mark hoped to lift that side of his face so his eyes and ears would be even with the right side.
Gafar was wheeled out of surgery and began his difficult recovery. A few days passed and the pain and soreness slowly began to dissipate. The swelling decreased and finally the day came that Gafar was ready to play and interact with a few other patients. Tani, a young girl recovering from sever burns, and Gafar became the heart and soul of D Ward.
Nurse Ali made a craft corner in the ward where they would string bead necklaces, make books, draw pictures and even oil paint on canvases. Before we knew it, Gafar had come out of his shell and was giggling, teasing and playing with all the nurses and Tani.
His personality transformation was simply one aspect of his makeover. His physical improvements were noticeable, as well. After weeks of recovery on the ward Gafar was crafting, as usual, when Ali took a moment to check out his eye. She lifted the bandage from his bad eye and asked him if he could see her. “Yes,” he said.
“Gafar, how many fingers?” Ali said as she held up her hand with all fingers. “Five.” He responded. Ali determined through talking to Gafar that it was the first time he had seen out of his left eye in four years.
His physical transformation was being able to see out of his left eye for the first time in four years since the tumor enveloped his eye and caused his lid to be permanently closed. His spirits have been flipped and lifted. Gafar is enjoying being a kid—and Mercy Ships was has given him back his childhood. One that, this time, will be filled with joy.
****My stories would never be complete without the brilliant photography of Tom Bradley. We work so well together!!! Check out his blog---he is truly talented.
Gafar sits on the famous bench!
This bench was on the Anastasis (ship prior to Africa Mercy) and every Mercy Ships patient who has ever had surgery with us sat on this very bench and was prayed for before entering surgery. Pretty cool.
Tom scrubbed in for Gafar's surgery! Going under...
Incision #1 has been made. Hang in there Gafar!!
The doctor takes a phone call mid-procedure :)
Gafar in Recovery. Sleeping soundly.
The first of many BIG smiles on his face---here Gafar is welcoming 2 new friends...Christian & Mercy are in for Cataract correction.
Craft Corner? Don't mind if I do! Bead necklace making.
He's a South African supporter!! World Cup mania on board the Africa Mercy.
Jesse Mitchell, Head Chef here on the ship, spends some time with Gafar in the ward.
I love it when he smiles! Pre-surgery we couldn't PAY him for a smile. Now, its a common occurrence.